Spider’s Bite (Elemental Assassin, Book 1) by Jennifer Estep
An unbeatable assassin, a sexy cop, and a bitch of an enemy: Spider’s Bite, the first book in the Elemental Assassin series by Jennifer Estep, has a fun plot and a cast of intense characters, but the writing issues and the unbelievability of the main character’s emotions often got in the way of the pacing.
Gin, known as the Spider in the seedier circles of Ashland, is the best assassin in town. She’s fast, smart, well trained, and has two Elemental powers where others only have one. With her Stone magic, Gin has “the power, the magic, the ability, to listen to the element wherever it was, in whatever form it took.” So she and her handler, the grumpy but endearing Fletcher Lane, don’t hesitate when a monetarily tempting offers lands on their laps. It’s a classic embezzling scandal, and seems like a simple job. But Gin should have known better. Nothing’s simple when it comes to money and power. And what seemed like a simple job costs Fletcher his life.
After the job goes wrong, Gin teams up with Finn Lane, her handler’s son and incorrigible banker, as well as Donovan Cain, an incorruptible police officer. Together the three of them plan to hunt down and destroy a mysterious Wind Elemental gunning for the the head seat in the Ashland underground. Before the Elemental destroys them.
The attraction between Gin and Donovan is instant. But Donovan finds her profession, and her morals, abhorent. Gin, of course, is hurt by his opinion. This is where her emotions in the book become cliche and unbelievable. Because Gin only became an assassin from necessity…it was better than becoming a prostitute pretty much. A mysterious tragedy happened in her life, leaving everybody in Gin’s family dead, except for her. So Gin is really just misunderstood. She’s a nice assassin, who kills because she’s good at it, not because she’s a sadist. But, surprise surprise, he’s a man and he still lusts after her: “But then, the heat flared between us, as bright and strong as ever.” The lack of depth to their relationship takes away from both characters, who, overall, are complex and well thought out.
Jennifer Estep tells us what Gin feels: “The cold rage beat in my chest, a slow, steady drum.” But this doesn’t make me feel her rage. Rage isn’t cold. It’s hot, burning, passionate. We get this same thing when she describes Fletcher’s death: “But my chest still burned with cold rage from losing Fletcher. At what had been done to him. At the desecration of the Pork Pit. The sadistic glee the Air elemental had taken in accomplishing both. And for what? So I could be blamed for a murder I didn’t even commit? Pointless. All of it.” More of that “cold rage” that just doesn’t feel real. When she finally starts to feel grief for her loss, it too feels forced: “Guilt and grief filled me, and I concentrated on my breathing, trying to squash the feelings.” She says she feels it, but the writer doesn’t show us.These things slow the pacing, and really take away what could otherwise be a fast and fun read.
But Estep does have a distinct writing style, and this is reflected in Gin’s tone, as well as some of the descriptions in the book. The opening scene of the novel gives us this gem that shows us Gin’s morbid personality – “Asylum. The word always made me smile. Such a pretty name for a hellhole.” – while this excpert shows us her softer side – “The metal baton came down again, and the orchestra burst into song. Energy. Emotion. Joy. I closed my eyes, listening to the swell of the orchestra, the perfect harmony the instruments created as they enunciated their complex patterns of notes and chords. All blending and melting together into a cacophony of supreme beauty.”
The complex characters and original plot keep the reader guessing as the pages turn, but the lack of believable emotions due to Estep’s tendency to “tell not show” leave this book feeling unpolished.